Sheenagh Pugh (sheenaghpugh) wrote,
Sheenagh Pugh
sheenaghpugh

Seditious blogpost

I can live with staying at home, especially since everything is shut and there's nothing worth going out for (I am actually more concerned that when this is over, so much of the leisure sector may have gone to the wall that there will still be nothing worth going out for). I think the "one walk a day" instruction is OTT, and is certainly being over-zealously interpreted by some police and councils - that's the natural tendency of jacks-in-office, which is why it is important never to accept what they do without question.  But again, I am lucky enough to have a garden I can work in, so it doesn't bother me too much.

What does increasingly bother me quite a lot is what I can only call the masochistic, puppy-like enthusiasm with which some folk are greeting the temporary, probably necessary but surely to be regretted, sacrifice of their liberties.  I have seen them saying online that people should "do as they are told", "not moan about it" (pardon me, it is the inalienable right of every citizen in a free country to moan, especially about the authorities and i shall go right on doing so) and "trust the government" - I would have laughed out loud at that one, if it weren't so potentially serious.

These folk tend to reference the "spirit of WW2", which only goes to show that they have talked to few survivors and read no Mass Observation diaries of the period, in which, believe me, there was much grumbling and little automatic trust. But I'd like to go back a little further in history, to the start of the 19th century when repressive measures, born in Establishment fears engendered by the French Revolution and Napoleon, in turn bred dissatisfaction and frustration that culminated in the Peterloo massacre. The slightest sign of disaffection was enough to panic the authorities into arbitrary legislation; at one stage, in response to what was probably a pebble thrown at the window of the Prince Regent's  carriage, Habeas Corpus was suspended (for four months, "initially").  "Seditious meetings" were also banned and the government also tried to apprehend all printers and writers "responsible for seditious and blasphemous material" - they mostly failed at this, because juries rightly baulked at it and thanks to Charles James Fox's Libel Act of 1792, they and not the judge had the power to decide what was libellous. Not the first nor the last time the sublime Mr Fox would make a nuisance of himself in the eyes of over-authoritarian regimes.

Of course we are not at the stage where the soldiery are riding down peaceful protestors, but then the Regency did not get to Peterloo all of a sudden; it got there via a slow accretion of measures whereby the government granted itself too much power and characterised even mild expressions of dissent as "sedition" or even "treason".  Nor did they learn from Peterloo; instead they passed the "Six Acts" of 1819, which outdid all repressive measures so far, forbidding meetings of more than 50 people and providing for 14 years' transportation for those guilty of "blasphemous and seditious libels"  - ie, as J B Priestley remarks in "The Prince of Pleasure and his Regency" (Heinemann 1969), anything a Tory magistrate disliked.

This is one reason why I think it was unwise for Parliament to allow the strengthened government powers in the Coronavirus Act to run for as long as 2 years without further parliamentary scrutiny.  And it would be even more unwise for the general public to stop scrutinising what government does, questioning it if it seems excessive, and generally regretting, even if accepting, the necessity for even a temporary infringement of liberty.

Tags: politics
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